Sabri’s murder in a landscape of hate

AMJAD Sabri, the 40-year-old scion of the Sabri Qawwal family, is dead; he was murdered. His music was devotional, singing praises of the Prophet (PBUH) and spreading a message of love and amity. He was acclaimed internationally. Who’d want him dead?

Poignant to a fault, Mustafa Zaidi’s couplet has been rendered a cliché by the killing fields of Karachi. Who and why one doesn’t know and will never know. Public outrage will soon taper off as mourning fatigue sets in even deeper.

Political parties with a connection to the universally loved artist will (and have) move(d) to using his death to hurl accusations at opponents, disregarding the pain of his loved ones to circulate bloodied images of his body and close-ups of his face violated by bullets for whatever political gain that could be accrued.

It isn’t just the semi-literate preacher who so many of us contemptuously blame and dismiss. It is also people who are considered part of the intelligentsia.
The only ones to genuinely, and over a lifetime, mourn the man would be his family including the young widow and five children. The eldest, a son, is just 12. Everyone who met him, described Amjad Sabri as a man filled with charm and humility. His amazing singing talent in the particular genre he mastered was part of his DNA. One can’t even imagine what he meant to his family.

Many optimists say the love Amjad Sabri shared perpetually would triumph in the long term as hate can never win. They point to the vast milling crowd that gathered at his funeral the day after his dastardly murder as substantiating their argument.

My utterly devastated, shattered and acutely depressed self wants to believe the eternal optimists and why wouldn’t I? I mostly belong to their tribe too. But then I am reminded of another funeral where there was an equally huge gathering that seemed to have taken over every available space in and around Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh.

Do you remember that funeral? It wasn’t long ago. Yes, I am sure you would recall how Mumtaz Qadri was bid farewell by his supporters and those who shared his beliefs. You can call their reaction the result of being misled by divisive preachers or attribute it to whatever other cause you wish.

What you can’t deny is that the man, who was paid to protect the Punjab governor and violated every possible oath he had taken to murder Salmaan Taseer, is still venerated by thousands, perhaps millions, of people.

Salmaan Taseer was not guilty of asking anything more than justice for a defenceless woman belonging to the marginalised minority community. But those who gathered to take part in the last rites of his murderer claimed the executed policeman was a ‘ghazi’ and a ‘shaheed’ at the same time.

We hear from the military that its Operation Zarb-i-Azb has been a success as terrorists have been ‘wiped out’ even from the country’s remotest fringes and will continue till the last vestiges of extremism are obliterated.

These claims and this resolve, of course, are accompanied by bickering about how the civilian government has not delivered on what it pledged to do in terms of ticking off the various points of the so-called National Action Plan. Understandably, its acronym has led to endless jokes.

What isn’t a joke is the mindset that has set us adrift from sanity; we seem to be inching closer and closer to destruction. The problem isn’t just the semi-literate preacher who so many of us contemptuously blame and dismiss. It is also people who are considered part of intelligentsia.

Scanning the social media this week I came across a clip of a TV interview of a former civil servant. He has in the past served as the secretary Punjab Archives, was seen as close to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and writes a column for an Urdu newspaper and makes regular TV appearances.

This person was lashing out at the TV regulator Pemra for allowing an advertisement to be put on air whereas, according to him, such fahashi (obscenity) would have been censored in the past. His sense of outrage and anger was a sight to behold.

If nothing else, my curiosity was aroused and I looked around on the net for the ad and found it without much of a problem. I watched it and waited till the very end for the obscenity that the former civil servant had alluded to.

I watched it a number of times and on each occasion the last few seconds were somewhat blurred, as my eyes welled up. But I could see nothing obscene. It is a mobile phone ad and features a teenage girl who is selected to the Pakistan cricket team even as her father is opposed to girls participating in sport.

The ad I must say is extremely sweet and, of course, doesn’t end in tragedy when the daughter bowls Pakistan to victory and the father too comes round to acknowledging her achievement and congratulating her. (The reality, as a score of incidents have demonstrated, is much uglier for many girls and women in our country.)

Throughout the advertisement, the teenager is fully clothed in full-sleeve shirts and pants. I replayed it many times but couldn’t understand what was obscene about it. Perhaps, in an environment of misogyny, a young woman asserting her independence was obscene to some.

And that she is shown succeeding is what some members of the intelligentsia seemed to find a bigger obscenity. In the past, the word obscenity was always accompanied by ‘oryaniyat’ (nudity). Thankfully, that wasn’t used here.

Still it is difficult to decide whether to mourn the mindless loss of a young artist alone or the mindset that seems to be more widely prevalent than anyone of us is willing to acknowledge and that is killing off all sense and tolerance in society.



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